How should I balance learning from books and learning from music?

Joffry

Active member
Lately I have had a lot more time to practice and this summer I plan on really getting into it and practicing a ton, so I'm trying to see how I should structure my practice. How should I balance between books vs getting ideas directly from music? I've had John Ramsay's Alan Dawson book for a while now, and I plan on using it a lot, but I guess I'm worried that I will spend too much time on shedding the exercises in that book and not enough time learning directly listening to other drummers.
Obviously, jazz is largely an aural tradition, so I'm gonna be listening a lot and playing along to a lot of jazz, but I also want to get as much as I can out of the Alan Dawson book.

I'm sure that for most drummers, their practice time revolves around learning from music and learning from books, so I suppose the main variable is how each of us splits our time between the two.
 

Auspicious

Well-known member
There is always a weak thing to improve, it's a matter of being aware of it and it's a natural revolving cycle.. playing with music provides me to most fun but at some point i'll be unable to do certain things.

This will lead me back to some exercises naturally.

It's dynamic.. and in my regimen I like to practice the sticks on the pad every morning before work. It helps a lot.
 

beet

Well-known member
I’m not a jazz guy, but based on my general understanding, shouldn’t the Dawson book’s vocabulary be useful enough to apply it to music? That is, you just need the general music and not really care what the prior drummer did. Just use Dawson’s vocabulary and apply it to a song and essentially accomplish two things at once. Sorry if this is wrong. 🤠
 

Mighty_Joker

Silver Member
Generally you can think of it as a tool box or Dr’s kit for certain issues or goals.

so if you’re working on jazz, let’s say you decide to focus on your jazz time keeping - swing feel, comping, broken time, that sort of thing.

There’s a period of study followed by application and integration. You need sauce material so you know what to actually play. This comes from two or three main sauces: listening to existing music, books, and a teacher. You use this as a basis for obtaining and learning the actual vocabulary, the patterns and phrases you actually physically play.

The next stage is applying it musically, playing it along to music, recording yourself, improvising etc.

The books are tools. They are a sauce of information, just like listening to music (from a practice context). How you divide your time is largely up to you, but the process is broadly the same. Ultimately, to nail the style you will need to become comfortable with the material with the books closed and your ears open.
 

beet

Well-known member
There’s a period of study followed by application and integration. You need sauce material so you know what to actually play. This comes from two or three main sauces: listening to existing music, books, and a teacher. You use this as a basis for obtaining and learning the actual vocabulary, the patterns and phrases you actually physically play.
The book he has is one that teaches a vocabulary, supposedly a “complete vocabulary.” If you have this book, wouldn’t some traditional steps be eliminated?


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John Riley suggests practicing the grooves in Beyond Bop Drumming to the slow playalong track on the CD as a "glorified click track" (or something like that), so you could spend some time playing the exercises from the Dawson book to some tunes. Of course, they won't line up with what's being played on the recording but that might actually help to play them in time solidly. That way, you can still listen to new things and get acquainted with that. @toddbishop recently made a list of ballads: http://www.cruiseshipdrummer.com/2021/04/know-your-tempos-ballads.html
There is also Walter Grassmann's "Big Band Drumming" which has quite a few short tracks of rhythmic figures in different tempos. I hope this helps to work on different things at the same time.
 

johnjssmith

Junior Member
Nowadays I definitely learn from books more than I learn from music - I like to believe I have a solid basis in most styles and I go to books for more advanced, less readily/aurally available things like coordination exercises, (relatively) complicated patterns...
Reading books and practicing those exercises by themselves isn't going to make anyone a much better drummer, as all that technique has to be applied to music to be worth anything, so I go by something that Ed Soph said:
books contain solutions to musical problems that you may encounter when playing, but they won't make you a better player unless you go and figure out what these problems are and how you can apply those solutions to the music you're playing.

That wasn't an exact quote, but that's the gist of it really, and in my experience that's very very accurate: The New Breed is the greatest book on dexterity I could find, but it won't make you a better player unless you exactly know what you want to get out of it, which in the case of that particular book will likely be getting comfortable with playing whatever over a certain ostinato.

So to sum it up, listen to the music and try to play it, notice what needs improving when you do that, and go to books for exercises that will help you improve that.
 

prokofi5

Junior Member
The problem I found with learning too much from books is it doesn't teach how to think and react musically. I was spending a ton of time going through the classics (Reed, Chapin, etc.) but realized nothing I learned was in context which is a problem especially in jazz that involves a lot more improvisation and interaction between musicians. I got to the point where I could do pretty well playing Alan Dawson's "Eight Triplet Ways" while humming a line from Syncopation but it's still not something I could use playing with a group.
Pretty much the only book I use now on a daily basis is Wayne Salzmann's "Developing Melodic Language on the Drums." It covers some ideas how to interpret a melody both while comping or soloing and then gives a bunch of recognizable 1-12 bar phrases to apply them. I can apply the same approach to pretty much any lead sheet and really focus on interpretation of a particular phrase. I discovered how weak my playing was when I found it would take me dozens or even hundreds of times through a short loop to get really comfortable playing a short phrase and catching figures the way I wanted. And if I want to work on coordination I realized why not use an actual musical phrase as a template instead of page 38.
 

No Way Jose

Silver Member
Allocate your time as you require. Your needs may change from time to time. I think playing with other musicians, gigging and developing original songs is important. You don't get that mental process from books.
 

larryace

"Uncle Larry"
FWIW, record yourself as you play these books. Play to songs too. Listen back hard for areas you don't like. Keep what doesn't bother you and re-think the parts that do.

When you don't have to actually play and can allocate all your brain power to listening...I'm just saying that it moved me ahead quicker than anything I tried before or since. If you're playing it perfectly out of a book...but you don't like the end result of how it sounds....you'll want to know that. Recording IMO is the only and best way to turn that critical ear back on yourself.
 

toddbishop

Platinum Member
Listen to a lot of records, and play with people as much as you can. If anyone in your area is playing music live right now, go see them play. See the people you want to play with, with the drummer they already use.

The Reed methods in the Dawson book (and elsewhere) teach you to read the way professionals read, and to interpret a melody line to make a realistic, evolving, drumming texture. You do have to practice improvising in the style of those methods, and then learn to use them when playing with people-- you can't become a finished drummer in the practice room, but it gets you reasonably close.
 

Spreggy

Silver Member
I don't understand why this isn't said more often. If you want to "really get into it" as you say, get a teacher. There are a bunch here who Skype, it works great. Or a local teacher. It's cool to take a test lesson with any teacher so you can see if you click. A good teacher will listen to you, and tell you what you actually need to practice. Any other direction of learning will pale in comparison.
 

prokofi5

Junior Member
Reed methods in the Dawson book (and elsewhere) teach you to read the way professionals read, and to interpret a melody line to make a realistic, evolving, drumming texture
I'm curious about this though. If the goal is to read like pros do and interpret a melody line why does everyone one use Syncopation? Wouldn't it be better to use the real book or something and use actual melodies to practice these techniques on?
 

toddbishop

Platinum Member
Learning to read isn't the only reason to use it-- there's a total concept involved that's the foundation of everything you do on the drums, that goes well beyond simply learning to accompany a melodic part or learning tunes. You could do the same stuff with actual charts or lead sheets-- they're just not designed for drumming/reading practice, so a lot of them won't be particularly challenging or conducive to the kinds of things you do with Syncopation.
 

MG1127

Well-known member
Books are a nice help but not completely necessary ... especially if you use them incorrectly the way most do.

Listening on the other hand is the absolute most important thing.... Listening to the music that came before us and listening to those who are playing with you.

Listening and getting out to see music live (tough lately yes) are the most important steps to getting you ready for next step which is playing with people.

You will never in your life learn more about playing this music than you will playing with others and being challenged to speak the dialect.

It is literally the only true way to learn what your weaknesses are.

Using play along tracks in my opinion is one of the worst things you can do when learning this music... it is a terrible representation of what will happen when the band hits.

Don't play exercises on the bandstand
 

beet

Well-known member
The problem I found with learning too much from books is it doesn't teach how to think and react musically. I was spending a ton of time going through the classics (Reed, Chapin, etc.) but realized nothing I learned was in context which is a problem especially in jazz that involves a lot more improvisation and interaction between musicians. I got to the point where I could do pretty well playing Alan Dawson's "Eight Triplet Ways" while humming a line from Syncopation but it's still not something I could use playing with a group.
Pretty much the only book I use now on a daily basis is Wayne Salzmann's "Developing Melodic Language on the Drums." It covers some ideas how to interpret a melody both while comping or soloing and then gives a bunch of recognizable 1-12 bar phrases to apply them. I can apply the same approach to pretty much any lead sheet and really focus on interpretation of a particular phrase. I discovered how weak my playing was when I found it would take me dozens or even hundreds of times through a short loop to get really comfortable playing a short phrase and catching figures the way I wanted. And if I want to work on coordination I realized why not use an actual musical phrase as a template instead of page 38.
An interesting write up on Melodic Jazz Drumming is this guy’s thesis on it.

 

beet

Well-known member
The problem I found with learning too much from books is it doesn't teach how to think and react musically. I was spending a ton of time going through the classics (Reed, Chapin, etc.) but realized nothing I learned was in context which is a problem especially in jazz that involves a lot more improvisation and interaction between musicians. I got to the point where I could do pretty well playing Alan Dawson's "Eight Triplet Ways" while humming a line from Syncopation but it's still not something I could use playing with a group.
Pretty much the only book I use now on a daily basis is Wayne Salzmann's "Developing Melodic Language on the Drums." It covers some ideas how to interpret a melody both while comping or soloing and then gives a bunch of recognizable 1-12 bar phrases to apply them. I can apply the same approach to pretty much any lead sheet and really focus on interpretation of a particular phrase. I discovered how weak my playing was when I found it would take me dozens or even hundreds of times through a short loop to get really comfortable playing a short phrase and catching figures the way I wanted. And if I want to work on coordination I realized why not use an actual musical phrase as a template instead of page 38.
(edit: My interest is mainly in the listening and translating what is in the mind into drum beats. )

On his web site, he has downloads of the audio related to the book. You can kind of hear what is going on with the concepts. There are YouTube videos of these as well.



Also, there is his old YouTube of an overview.
 
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prokofi5

Junior Member
Also, there is his old YouTube of an overview.
He does the same thing but with a different set of steps for comping. I like the idea since you're learning to interpret music in context and can immediately tell if something sounds good or not as opposed to playing technical exercises in somewhat of a vacuum. It's all important but I think this is a good addition since it starts to bridge that gap.

Using play along tracks in my opinion is one of the worst things you can do when learning this music... it is a terrible representation of what will happen when the band hits.
Do you mean specifically something like music-minus-one tracks or are you talking about playing with records and anything pre-recorded in general?
 

ZDrumMan

Active member
I agree with most everything stated previously. There are a lot of really good people on this forum.

As to the topic, I approach drumming from two points: the mechanics and the musicality. Books and exercises provide you with the discipline to improve your mechanics. Listening and being able to understand what is being played come partially from from the mechanics, but it truly comes from your understanding that goes beyond mental understanding of music. Listening is the teacher of musicality and that happens when you are hearing recorded music, hearing a live situation, being in a band, or yes, working on the mechanics of drumming. You could always look at the pattern below and think it is just what it is. But displacing an accent throughout the pattern will provide you with different uses or even sound options. But that comes from understanding beyond the mental. In other words accenting 2 and 4 may produce a march feeling for you but moving the accent to the ANDs and it could be produce a completely different feel. Also displacing the notes to different surfaces (drums, cymbals, etc) will produce a completely different feel and use. That is the musicality of drumming. It is the understanding of how to use what you have in various ways to produce the correct support for the song of the moment.

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